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John Malcolm was born in Scotland on July 2, 1845.  He died on April 6, 1934, Route 2, Durant, Oklahoma in his eighty-ninth year.  He was buried on April 7, 1934 in Colbert Cemetery, Colbert, Oklahoma.

Gooding then introduced me to B. F. Colbert, who wanted me to run his ferry.  We made a trade for a year.  I then saw Randolph and Shannon to get what was coming to me for wages.  Shannon said he did not have anything, but Randolph gave me a spotted poney and a bridle.  I had an old saddle, so the pony and I arrived at Colbert's house on Sunday evening with a small buncle of clothes tied to my saddle and with no money.  I think it was January 8, 1871.

Benjamin Franklin Colbert was born in Chickasaw country near Horn Lake, Mississippi December 18, 1828.  He died March 11, 1893.  He was the son of Martin and Sallie Allen Colbert, who were both Chickasaw.  His first wife was Martha McKinney, a Cherokee, by whom he had two children, Mary, who married a white man by the name of Thornton Downing.  His second wife was Malinda Factor, a Chickasaw, who died November 9, 1853.  His third wife was George Anne McCarthy, a white woman, by whom he had three children: Holmes (a member of the Chickasaw Commission that negotiated the Atoka Agreement); Texana (who married a white man (railroad agent at Colbert) named Winter Bradley, for whom the the town of Bradley, Oklahoma was named); and Eugenia (who was educated at Miss Mary Baldwin's Seminary at Staunton, Virgina and married Lucien Perry).

His fourth wife was Lou Goldsby, a Cherokee, by whom he had nine children, only five of whom reached maturity, namely, James Colbert, now deceased, May, now of Columbia, Missouri, who married Wyatt S. Hawkins, of Hannibal, Missouri, Frances, now of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who married W. M. Baker, of Staunton, Virginia, Harley and Richard, both of whom reaching mature manhood, are now dead. The two daughters, May and Frances, were also educated at the Baldwin Seminary at Staunton, Virginia.

Colbert became a successful cotton planter and owned twenty-five slaves before the Civil War broke out.

Will describe the place: it was a large two room house with a hall-way, two shed rooms behind making a four-room house, painted white. There was also a two room log house about ten feet from the east end; one room was used for kitchen and the other a sleeping room for the negro cooks.

There was no stove, only skillet and lids for baking. I don't know how they did so much cooking for there were never less than from ten to twenty eating there. However, they put up good food and plenty of it. On the northwest, about thirty yards from the main house there was a cottage, twenty by twenty feet, with double beds and fireplace. They called it the office.

The main house had a large veranda in front, also a Bermuda grass yard with three or four large oak trees, and there was a
good orchard on the southwest side. On the east side was the garden, with some two or three graves. East of the garden was the barn and north of the barn the cow and hog lots with a large lot of near five acres in Bermuda grass.

It was a pretty place. The main road was about one-fourth of a mile north of the house and led down to the ferry.  Several hundred acres were in cultivation and there were houses for the negroes in different parts of the fields. It was a stage-stand where the coaches changed horses and drivers. One coach went south at night and the other went north usually about noon. 

They always had two drivers, one for each way. Colbert kept around 100 head of hogs and milked eight to ten cows. He owned a ranch about twelve or fifteen miles northeast, where he kept several hundred head of cattle. After a few years he moved all his cattle up near Erin Springs where he broke out a large farm and fed his stock of beef cattle. His oldest son, Martin Colbert, had charge of this farm.

"The Colbert home, a one-story double log house, became the Butterfield's station for changing horses and feeding and lodging passengers . . . Frank became one of the richest and most prominent members of the Chickasaw Nation; owning large herds of cattle, a steam-driven sawmill, a gristmill, a cotton gin, and hundred of acres of land on both sides of the river."

Source : Bryant, Mavis Anne, Lives in Photography : Denison, Texas, 1872 - 1999, c2012; pgs. 91-93

There was a store on the Texas side about 200 yards from the ferry landing. In it were sold groceries, some dry goods and whiskey—it was called the "First and Last Chance." Coming from the north it was the first chance to get whiskey and was the last chance, if going north. It did a good business. There were only two houses between the river and Carriage Point, a distance of 12 miles. The first house was Dan Collins' on this (south) side of Colbert Station. At Carriage Point, Calvin Colbert, a half brother to B. F. Colbert, had a farm and ranch.

There was no Durant then, or Calera, or Caddo. Up the river (west) there were only two or three farms; first was J. A. Smith's, then Jim Colbert's, then old Sam Love's. For ten miles down (east) the river road to Bloomfield there were two places, Charles Eastman's and Holmes Colbert's, the latter a cousin of Frank Colbert. Northeast about six or seven miles there were a few Indians by name of Hillhouse, and old Abijah Colbert, an uncle of B. F. Colbert, and some others around Bloomfield. There were a good many also towards Tishomingo and Rock Creek.

If you found a trail through the woods, you would come to an Indian's cabin. They all lived away from any road. You could get on your horse and take a course with no fences to bother you. Grayson County, Texas, was very thinly settled then. Sherman, Texas, was our nearest town and it was just a very small place. There wasn't even a dwelling house and garden on the west side of the square.

The Indians used to bring down ponies to sell or trade for whiskey and tobacco. The store would not buy them, so I bought a good many. There was another store a little over a mile south of the river on the road owned by John Maupin and Jim Maupin, his brother.  John was one of Quantrell and Anderson's men, and when I did not buy they did.

Nearly every week or two, Indians would come four or more in a bunch, go across to the store and stay a few hours, come back loaded down with whiskey and feeling good. Then I had to keep my eyes open for they would shoot and we would have trouble. One day six of them came, stayed a few hours, then came back. Jim Hillhouse was Indian sheriff and he used to watch for them. That day he had been on the lookout, and when he met them at the turn of the hill not over 75 yards from the boat landing they went to shooting. Jim had the Indian constable with him. 

As travel was getting heavier one boat could not do the work, so about the first of March they put in another boat. Each boat could carry six to seven two-horse wagons. The upper boat ran on a steel cable moved down just far enough apart so that the two boats would not collide. I had now to look after both of them. Times were surely getting hot. The railroad bridge was building. Railroad outfits moving back and forth, and the further down the M. K. & T. got the more freight wagons crossed the river.

Denison started to be a town, and it surely was a tough one. Towns north started as the railroad came along. The Texas Central was building at the time, and Warner was its (north) terminus. Several houses were built down in the bottom and a depot and town-site laid off with a man by name of Captain Faulkner selling town lots. There were two saloons, a dance hall, a hotel and a few dwellings, a turn table for cars, two or three big wells.  Both tracks (M.K.&T. and H.&T.C.) ran side by side up to Denison.

Finally they compromised but for a good while we thought the town would be in the bottom. Frank Colbert, John Maupin, Thornton Downing, and I bought 20 acres of land in an addition to Denison from Joe Lain, a farmer. Their one-half of it was on Main St. north—now worth millions. We got afraid that the town was going to be in the bottom and Colbert received a tip that it would be, so he and Maupin sold out to Munson. Colbert kept after me to sell night and day but I still held; he said that the town would be in the bottom, said he got it from the chief engineer, so I sold, like a fool, only doubling my money. Downing sold soon after that, but Denison kept growing.

John Maupin, as I stated previously to this, was in Quantrell's and Anderson's command in time of the Civil War, and the James boys, also Cole Younger and some others were comers and goers with us; got well acquainted with them. Frank James went by name of Frank Rapp, Jesse by name of Williams. If I had time and space I could relate many funny incidents, that occurred between them and the Denison and Sherman officers. 

There was at one time a company of soldiers camped at Colbert Station two or three weeks. Every few days some of the officers would cross and go to Sherman and back. One morning the Major came down to the boat with two or three soldiers and a four horse wagon. He had with him another man in civilian's clothes and when they walked up to me the Major said: "Mr. Malcolm, let me introduce you to Mr. Fred Grant, President Grant's son." I replied jokingly, "Major, you are giving me taffy." "No," he said, so I shook hands with Mr. Grant. He was a gawky, fleshy looking fellow, as I remember.

Along towards Fall travel became very heavy and the railroad bridge was nearing completion. Christmas came and the first passenger train went across on Christmas afternoon, 1872. Soon after that all freight wagons stopped and our travel was cut half. 

B. F. Colbert was one of the best men I ever worked for. He was strictly honest and a perfect gentleman in every sense of the word, and expected every one else to be the same.

The year 1873 wore along with just about the same routine. Mr. Colbert got to studying about a bridge. He and I had several conversations in regard to it that spring and he went to Washington to see about getting a charter. Gov. Throckmorton of Texas and others assisted him in getting it. When he came back he told me that he got an introduction and shook hands with the President, and he was surely proud of it. I asked him if he would not have to get some authority from Texas. "No," he said, "the Chickasaws claim to the high water mark on the south side of Red river and when I sold my land over in the bottom I reserved the right for a boat or bridge landing and a way out." Finally he got his charter that Fall. He let the contract for building the bridge to a man by the name of Baker, I forget his initials.

They started work—I think it was in 1874, but the old ferry boat kept making its regular trips across the river, with its various troubles though with a greatly decreased travel, although the country commonly called "the Nation" was certainly increasing in population both in town and country. Work on the bridge began in the Spring but progressed very slowly. Travelers in wagons still kept coming, but we had no more freight wagons except a few from Sherman up to Pauls Valley.

The Fort Sill people hauled their supplies from Colbert Station and Caddo. Durant did not increase very fast; Caddo was far ahead of it at that time. Durant was a very small depot and Charley Case was both night and day agent, and telegraph operator.  Colbert, Maupin and Gooding put a store at Colbert Station.  Charley Kingsberry was postmaster.  Then Frank Colbert put up a custom corn and flour mill, a small cotton gin and saw-mill, all combined in one three-story house.

The bridge was finished either in 1874 or '75, I forget which. However, it only stood about eleven months and a few days, for I tended the bridge all the time. In August '75 or '76 there came the biggest overflow that was known on Red River. The railroad bridge went out first. One span of it floated down and lodged against the north pillar of the wagon bridge, but did not even shake it. There was a heavy drift of logs and trees coming down and much of this lodged around the middle pier. Sometimes it would break loose then big cotton-wood trees would strike it endwise and bounce back like rubber balls. Frank Colbert and I measured how far the bridge stood above the water. It measured fourteen feet from the bridge to the water. It was guaranteed by the contractor to stand up to twelve feet, but the center pier was battered off the piling by the heavy drift. I was out on the north span and a boy by the name of Liddell was about twenty steps behind me, when the pier and the two middle spans went out and the boy went down with the wreck.

It did not take me but a few seconds to get off the span. We shouted to the boy to stay on the wreck, that we would send the skiff after him. A man by name of George Hall ran down to where the skiff was tied and put out after the boy finding him about 20 miles below, where the wreck had lodged on the Texas side of the river. He got back home next day.

Thirty thousand dollars were gone in a few minutes, the cost of the bridge. The south pier and abutment went out that evening, leaving one pier on the north side with the span still standing, which stayed there for several years. That night Colbert told me to be ready to go to Atoka to make out a bill of lumber for another boat. Next morning he got off a little before I did and when I got up to Colbert, Maupin met me a short distance from the depot, and told me that there were a lot of men at the depot marooned.  Frank Colbert met me at the end of the platform and said that about thirty men wanted to get across the river if I could put them over and that Harding, the Superintendent, (of the M. K. & T. R. R.) was among them. Colbert introduced me to them telling them they could trust in what I said. Harding then asked if I could get them across, I told them I could if I had a small boat, but had none as the small skiff we owned got away last night. Maupin spoke up and said that a pile of lumber near at hand was his and to help myself. I got a carpenter to help me. Harding asked him how long it would take; I told him until about two o'clock. We went to work and had a skiff finished by two o'clock. 

When the lumber arrived for Colbert's boat, Harding wanted to keep me, but I had promised to help Mr. Colbert, so with the aid of a carpenter and some other help we had the ferry running again in about ten or twelve days. The boat was 80 ft. long by 16 ft. wide. We had to run it by oars until we got a cable again and I had charge of it for over a year.   I then rented for two years, married the second year, in 1879 and moved to Texas on a farm that I had bought a few years before.  I lived there two years and sold out everything but six horses and a mule. I was getting ready to go to southern Texas. I went to Denison one afternoon and met Frank Colbert who wanted me to take the ferry, farm, and mill at Colbert Station, and the prairie farm.

We arranged a trade, and I took possession Jan. 1, 1883. Colbert was at his cattle ranch on the Washita for four years more. Then I had to quit the river on account of my health. About two years previously Colbert built on the hill above the ferry a large two-story house of eight rooms. There were around 800 acres in cultivation in the Ferry farm with a pasture of 300 or 400 acres. The prairie farm had 240 acres at that time and he had more broke out until there were over 600 acres.

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 16, No. 3
September, 1938
Recollections of John Malcolm, pioneer ferryman.
Recorded by
W. B. Morrison

The Sunday Gazetteer
Sunday, March 19, 1898
pg. 2

The Sunday Gazetteer
Sunday, May 17, 1908
pg. 4

The old Frank Colbert homestead across Red River, north of the wagon bridge, was burned last Saturday night.  The building was considered to be worth $5,000, but was insured for only $1,000.  The property belonged to Mrs. Winter, of Durant.  The origin of the fire is unknown.

B.F. Colbert Family Cemetery

Colbert's Ferry

Biography Index

Chickasaw Research
Elaine Nall Bay

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